He is a new breed of treasure hunter. But unlike old timers, he relies on Google Earth to search treasure. So now Los Angeles-based musician, Nathan Smith, claimed he has found a lost treasure ship that sank during a hurricane in 1822 somewhere north of Corpus Christi.
But one hurdle remains for him; the owners of the land won’t allow him to dig the muddy creek unless federal government decides that the creek is indeed "navigable waters."
Below is the story from Houston Chronicle.
If Nathan Smith's plan to search for a buried treasure near the Texas Gulf Coast using Google Earth and a metal detector sounds like a Hollywood movie, it should.
After all, Smith, a California musician, was inspired by the hit National Treasure movies starring Nicolas Cage. And like any good swashbuckling flick, there's a dramatic tale — this one involving cannibalized 19th-century sailors who supposedly left the pot of gold and silver behind in Refugio County in South Texas.
Trying to bankroll his art by becoming a treasure hunter like Cage's movie character also led Smith to the witness stand Monday in Houston's federal courthouse, where he testified in his quest to get U.S. District Judge David Hittner to order that he has title to a shipwreck he says is buried under muck near the Mission River.
He's ready to hire people to unearth the ship he thinks was laden with gold when it veered away from an 1822 hurricane and sank into mud about 160 miles southwest of Houston. But he gets to dig only if Hittner finds that the site is in navigable waters. Otherwise, anything underneath it belongs to the family who claims to own the land and is in court opposing any excavation.
"I've been seeking the Lost Dutchman's gold mine, the Franklin Mountains treasure, Jesse James' buried treasure, Belle Starr's iron door, the Lost Peg Leg gold and numerous others," testified Smith. He said his three years of treasure hunting have not yielded any treasure. "Most of these are in very secluded places and very dangerous," he said.
Smith, who testified that he's played with Junior Wells, Buddy Guy and Mick Fleetwood, said he thinks he's found the James loot in Oklahoma. But he said he also thinks there is a death trap in the form of a teetering rock half the size of the courtroom just outside the entrance.
A tale of riches
He said he became interested in the South Texas treasure from the book Lost Treasures of American History, which says a barkentine ship got lost up a creek near Refugio, half the sailors died on the way and the other half died at the hands of a local cannibal tribe.
The story goes on, he says, to say Comanche Indians found the gold and buried some of it after they, too, ran into the cannibals and fled. Some of the boat stayed above ground and was made into a house by area settlers, the tale goes on, Smith said.
He acknowledged on the stand, however, there's nothing to confirm this folklore.
Smith explained that using Google Earth from his home in Los Angeles, he spotted what he thought might be the outline of the vessel away from the creek where it was alleged to have run aground. The spot he found looks something like a shoe print. He contacted several experts about his find and drove to Texas to check it out, eventually with a metal detector.
"Where we walked, your honor, there was gold, there was silver. When you step off that area, you got nothing," said Smith about the metal detector results. He estimates the treasure to be worth $3 billion.
Guarding the location
In the case Smith v. The Abandoned Vessel, the initial lawsuit and lots of other documents have been kept under seal. Lawyers conferred on the best way to keep the site's location a secret. Smith doesn't want to give away what he thinks he found, and the landowners don't want people swarming their property.
The main legal issue in contention is whether the spot Smith wants to dig is on land belonging to the estate of the late Marie O'Connor Sorenson, or whether it is considered navigable waters.
If it's navigable waters, the first person to find abandoned booty can ask the federal courts and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permission to retrieve it. If it's part of the Sorenson land, only the heirs to the estate get to dig or allow others to do so. The site appears to be an oft-flooded muddy or wetlands-like spot near water.
In the trial, expected to continue today, lawyers will argue about the legal definition of navigable waters and whether this spot meets that definition.
"A person who walked into a bookstore and saw a book on treasure wants to do this," said Ron Walker, the Victoria lawyer representing the estate. "It's our property — we don't want anyone on our property to tear it up."
Walker said the family does not believe there is a ship there and notes that even the unproven folklore about the wreck places it more than 20 miles away.